Until the early years of the 21st century, the huge, whalebacked mound at the south-eastern tip of the Ness of Brodgar was thought to be a natural feature.
Bar two standing stones to the north west of the Brig o’ Brodgar there was nothing to see. Travelling between the other renowned Neolithic monuments in the area, such as the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, countless thousands of people passed by the giant mound over the years.
But, despite a few clues over the centuries, few gave it a second glance.
In 1999, a project to geophysically survey the entire Orkney World Heritage Site began. In 2002, it reached the southern tip of the Ness, where the results revealed a cluster of sub-soil anomalies,
“Indicative of settlement”, these covered an area of 2.5 hectares at the south-eastern end of the isthmus. The sheer concentration of anomalies, and the variation, astonished archaeologists.
A few months later, in April 2003, a large, notched, stone slab was ploughed up in the area.
Initially thought to be part of a Bronze Age burial cist, the possibility that human remains had been disturbed led to a rescue excavation by Beverley Ballin-Smith and Gert Petersen, from the Glasgow University Research Division.
Following the discovery of what we now refer to as Structure One, a resistivity survey was carried out to try to define the extent of the built archaeology and complement the initial gradiometer survey.
The results confirmed that something large and complex lay under the soil, so further investigations began.
To examine the nature, depth and extent of these suspected archaeological deposits, eight test-trenches were placed across the site in 2004.
And excavation began…